The vast majority of commodity plastics do not degrade and therefore they permanently pollute the environment. At present, less than 20% of post-consumer plastic waste in developed countries is recycled, predominately for energy recovery or repurposing as lower-value materials by mechanical recycling. Chemical recycling offers an opportunity to revert plastics back to monomers for repolymerization to virgin materials without altering the properties of the material or the economic value of the polymer. For plastic waste that is either cost prohibitive or infeasible to mechanically or chemically recycle, the nascent field of chemical upcycling promises to use chemical or engineering approaches to place plastic waste at the beginning of a new value chain. Here state-of-the-art methods are highlighted for upcycling plastic waste into value-added performance materials, fine chemicals and specialty polymers. By identifying common conceptual approaches, we critically discuss how the advantages and challenges of each approach contribute to the goal of realizing a sustainable plastics economy.
- green chemistry